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Theme Tuesday - Ringo Lam - Prison on Fire (1987)

For February 2019, I will be exploring the works of Hong Kong action director and master Ringo Lam, who passed away last year.


I am so used to see Chow Yun-Fat in serious mode that I still haven’t gotten used to seeing him in a more comedic role, despite the overwhelming seriousness of the rest of this movie. Perhaps Lam knew he couldn’t get away with unrelenting darkness for this movie, although Chow Yun-Fat's character is hardly just a clown. He carries a dark past of his own with him. Lo Ka Yiu (Tony Leung Ka Fai) is charged with manslaughter when he accidentally kills a robber who had been robbing his father’s store. Chow Yun-Fat’s Ching is basically his only ally in a place rife with brutal guards, triad members out the wazoo, etc.

I appreciated that the great actions set pieces were more evenly distributed throughout this film than the ones in City on Fire had been. The prison yard scene is chaotic, yet thrilling to watch and the action is not confusing. It also shows just how tenuous the control that the guards have over their prisoners is. The best scene, however, has to be the hunger strike, which is all just stare downs and posturing, yet also really tense and exciting to watch. Seeing what violence these prisoners had been capable of before, it makes the whole scene almost unbearable, and I give Lam full credit

The movie still suffers a little bit from uneven pacing. There are a lot of lulls without much story development or action. Just like with City on Fire, the action scenes make up for the weaker parts of this movie, and at the very least, the friendship between Ching and Yiu is well-developed and you grow to care for these two men and their bond (not so much Yiu’s relationship with his girlfriend, another weakness of Lam’s and this movie.)

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